Andrea Strong has the market on New York restaurant openings and closings and I defer to her frequently when I want to read up on New York restaurant gossip. It was on her site, in fact, that I first read about Noodle Bar. She wrote: “Quentin Dante, who opened and closed Yumcha with enough drama for a dozen reality shows, has opened up Noodle Shop on Carmine Street, just around the corner from his ill-fated pan-Asian spot.” Carmine Street? That’s my favorite haunt in the Village for delicious eats. I commanded James and Stella to meet me there before seeing “Blue Velvet” at Film Forum last night.
James and Stella were good candidates for visiting Noodle Bar. James likes noodles and Stella likes bars. Just kidding, Stella doesn’t like bars. She is a vegetarian, though, and noodle bars traditionally have good options for veggies like Stella.
One option that wasn’t good for her was the option that James and I started with: “Chili Fried Squid / Lime Maple Glaze, Fresh Chili.”
I watched a woman remove the calamari from a silver canister, dust it with flour and place it into a funnel-like colander apparatus which she dipped into sizzling oil. Stella stared with disdain at the slimy pieces of squid. This look of suspicion remained as James and I devoured the finished product.
“This is good,” declared James.
“Yes,” I agreed, eagerly lifting and dipping the calamari pieces.
“I’m so hungry,” said Stella.
“Eat one,” I urged. “A squid doesn’t have feelings. It tastes like a rubber band.”
But Stella wouldn’t have it. Since I had it, here’s what I liked best about the calamari appetizer: it was well seasoned (salty and spicy) and the dipping sauce was sweet with tiny depth-charges of heat by way of the pepper. A well done overture.
What’s fun about eating at Noodle Bar is that it’s an actual bar: you can watch them cook your food. While James and I devoured fried squid, we watched the chef manipulate our noodles in his wok.
You can’t really tell from that video, but that wok was mad hot. When he lifted it off the heat, flames shot up towards the ceiling. This is what we call cooking with heat.
James and I, kindred spirits that we are, both had the same entree: “Coconut Shrimp and Spicy Rice Noodle/ Egg, Sprouts, Scallions.”
I wish I could tell you I loved it as much as the appetizer, but I didn’t. It’s not that it wasn’t good–it was well made–but I was deceived. I asked the waiter how spicy it was when I ordered it and he said: “Not very spicy.” When waiters say this to me I usually trust them and I’ve never had a problem. But here, I found the noodles super spicy: spicier than any noodles I’d ever attempted before in my history of eating. It made the dish unpleasantly painful, like climbing an electronic fence with no destination in mind. If the heat served some larger Epicurean purpose, I’d go with it, but as it was it was pain for pain’s sake. And despite what you might hear, I ain’t no masochist.
Stella was equally disgruntled with her entree: “Smoked and Silken Tofu with azuki beans / lo mein.” Said Stella: “This tastes like ramen I could make at home.”
Yet, despite these grievances, I feel like Noodle Bar is a place you have to work with: maybe there are dishes that are more my speed that I haven’t discovered yet. I liked the feel of the place; I liked the mastery of the wok man and I liked the spirit of the menu. I will give it another go, maybe when I turn over a new leaf and decide to enjoy pain. You bring the chiles, Noodle Bar, I’ll bring the nipple clamps.